Publishers and Media: Do they conspire against self-published authors?

I’ve begun to wonder if there isn’t some type of unspoken yet accepted relationship between established publishers and the media that has made it difficult for self-published authors to get recognition in the press, on the radio and television. I can’t remember reading a review of a self-published book in a mainstream newspaper or magazine. So I decided to do a little research of my own.

First I contacted a syndicated National Public Radio show host. Her response wasn’t all bad news.

“I know how hard most authors work on their books so I know how easy it is to take everything personally but it is simply a matter of volume. I may get anywhere from three to five books a DAY, unsolicited. Some shows get easily 150 books a MONTH. There is no way all of these authors are going to get the attention they would like. I personally have done two self-published books, neither particularly well written (to be honest) but the news hooks were so strong I felt compelled. There are also documentaries to cover and other cultural works. Add to that the fact that most NPR hosts insist on reading the books themselves and you can see why we can only address a fraction of the material we receive.”

Then I queried Jane Friedman, editorial leader and brand manager for the Writer’s Digest writing community (including Writer’s Digest magazine, Writer’s Digest Books, Writer’s Market annuals, WritersMarket.com, WritersOnlineWorkshops). Her answer provided less hope for self-published authors.

“Yes, there is definitely a bias. Most self-published work is considered inferior in quality.”

Friedman referred me to a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American article Print-On-Demand Self-Publishing Services last updated on Feb. 20, 2010. I WISH I had read this before I’d decided that two dozen rejections, some personal handwritten notes from agents and publishers, were too many and it was time I go the self-publishing route.

I’m not going to quote the entire SFFWA article here. It’s too depressing, but I’ll refer to it again in the future. The article touched on a number of issues I’ve mentioned in previous posts. The article says that Print-On-Demand (POD) services are not a good fit for writers looking to establish a career.

“ POD services’ policies on pricing, marketing, and distribution severely limit their books’ availability…, and are likely to result in tiny sales and readership, even for authors who diligently self-promote…It’s unlikely that a book published by a POD service will be considered a professional publishing credit, or that, as many authors hope, it will provide a springboard to commercial publication (according to a 2004 article in the New York Times, out of the 10,000 or so titles published to that time by POD service Xlibris, only 20 had been picked up by commercial publishers).”

One of the few cases where the article suggests a POD service may be a good option is for writers of a niche nonfiction project. “These can be a tough sell for commercial or academic publishers, but they can do well for the motivated self-publisher who has a way of reaching his or her audience, and is able to devote time and money to marketing and promotion. Writers who can exploit ‘back of the room’ situations may also do well with a POD service–someone who lectures or conducts workshops, for instance, and can sell books at these occasions, or a restauranteur who wants to make a cookbook available to his or her customers.”

The article points out that there are people on the Internet who are eager to dispute the negatives of POD. “They’ll tell you that self-publishing is the way of the future. They’ll claim that the stigma traditionally associated with paying to publish has all but disappeared, and that it’s becoming ever more common for self-published books to be acquired by bigger publishing houses. They’ll often be able to point you to a news story about a writer who parlayed self-publishing into a lucrative commercial contract.

“But like the hype from self-publishing “evangelists,” articles about self-publishing success are often biased, inaccurate, or overstated…And there’s nothing new about big publishers picking up self-published books that sell robustly–just Google What Color Is Your Parachute? or The Christmas Box. As for the self-publishing stigma–unfair though it may be in many cases, it is alive and well.”

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5 Comments

Filed under agents, book, cost, distribution, editors, frustration, indie writer, media, on demand publishing, pay-to-publish, publishing, self-publishing, success, writing

5 responses to “Publishers and Media: Do they conspire against self-published authors?

  1. Kathleen O’keefe-Kanavos Pamela, you hit the nail on the head with self publishing. It’s extremely difficult to self market self published books. There’s no doubt about it, it’s unfair, but life is unfair because somehting must alwasy be used as a means of measuring success. Unfortunately, conventional publishing is used to measure what is considered worthy of being read because it has passed the agent and editor test. In all fairness, I’ve read some pretty awful conventionally published books and some darned good self published ones. Conventional publishing is extremely subjective and that makes it unpredictable. From what I’ve heard from my conventionally published friends, you haven’t really tried until you have been turned down by agents 200 times. Revise your work, change the title and your pen name and keep trying.
    http://www.survivingcancerland.com
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  2. moondustwriter

    I concur with Kathleen’s comments. I have read some ridiculous ( I could use a more scathing word) works written by well know authors and outstanding works written by unknowns hoping to get a break by self-publishing.
    I think publishing houses are going to be caught off guard by the changes because of the kindle (which is an app in the new ipad) I would say publishing houses be forewarned

    • Pam

      What the publishing houses control that self-published authors don’t have is a well-established distribution network. SM is only one part of this equation. If a self-published authors can’t get their books into bookstores across the country then there is little hope of selling a significant number of books. Kindle is already reported to represent about 30 percent of the sales on Amazon. Here, too, the issues is people being aware that a book title is for sale. There is more hope with digital books that SM will make it easier to reach potential readers. Only time will tell if there this works. But, like you, I am hopeful. BTW my book Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women’s Stories is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Living-Heartland-Extraordinary-Womens-Stories/dp/0615340660/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263685217&sr=8-1.

  3. Eric

    As a self-published author (times three), I can say that it is tough to get respectability from not just the publishing industry, but from readers as well. The publishing industry has been extremely successful at creating a standard that all readers must adhere to… if the book isn’t found at Barnes and Noble or Borders, then it probably isn’t worth reading. Of course this standard is entirely delusional but then again, so is contemporary western culture. Look at the film industry – the best films out there aren’t made by Hollywood and often only get seen at hole-in-the-wall theaters or on DVD-on-Demand video.

    The nature of the game though is to not do something acceptable (as is the case with everything, regardless if its self-published or traditionally published), but to do something so great that it breaks down all the brick and mortar barriers that companies like Random House and Simon and Schuster have spent years cementing.

    That’s my 6 cents, if I say any more they’ll charge tax.

    • Pam

      I think you said a gold standard worth. I’d love to have you write a guest post on your experiences. I agree with you that indie movies have slapped some sense into the movie industry and audiences. the difference is that it isn’t cheap to make a movie, even an indie one. Getting a book published is. Movies cost 1000s, 10,000s of dollars…books only dollars, and ebooks without copyright are free. There are no filters to separate quality. I’ve worked with people who don’t know how to self edit. There needs to be some form of review system so that good indie books can get the respect they deserve.

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